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Osbornomics, Not Wallace, Is Miliband's Problem

28/07/2014 12:40 BST | Updated 26/09/2014 10:59 BST

Not a poster boy for bacon sandwich! Miliband has promised us he won't look for a job with glam models agency. But that is the least of his or Labour's problems in the run up to the next elections. The British public has not always chosen Mr Handsome into office. Policies do matter. UK's world status and UK's economy are also decisive factors. If economic policies don't inspire trust and credibility then looks and stature get a compensatory look in.

I wrote quite early on that Miliband is a cerebral person whose intellectual appeal could overcome shortcomings in the 'look like a PM' department. The problem is that both Miliband and Labour started with a baggage they willingly shouldered. It wasn't the economic crises but the unwillingness to fend off the blame. In fact, at a time when confessions and sorrys had become fashionable, Labour was almost admitting fault and apologising through its silence.

The financial crises was precipitated by runaway global banking gone licentious. It was neither a British invention nor a Labour creation. Bigger economies such as USA and Europe were caught in this. Surely even the last surviving jingoistic imperialist can't boast that 'Rule Britannia' alone can bring the entire western world to its economic knees. It was only last year that a robust challenge was being mounted by Labour politicians against this.

Labour kept quiet when it needed to confront this flak and nip it in the bud. First it was embroiled in leadership battle then it waited for the leader to lead or fall. That precious window gave Tories a clear run to blame the financial crises on 'Labour'. They rubbed in the old cliches, 'Labour cannot be trusted with the economy'. 'Labour overspends'. 'Labour pushes the economy into deficit'. The message was repeated ad nauseam. It stuck.

The economy has recovered even though people's incomes have not recovered much unless one is in the millionaire club. People are aware of the unjust policies that Coalition Government followed, making it an easier ride for the rich but throwing the burden of the recovery on the rest, especially the poor.

Now the Tory message is building on its earlier foundation. 'Don't let Labour push Britain back into crises!' It is a clever one. Once culpability sticks then it isn't difficult to pile on further doubt.

As it is, the Coalition Government did almost exactly what many economists were advising. It subsidised the economic recovery. After the first few years of 'austerity' loading the brunt of it upon those most likely to vote Labour, the Government threw in 'quantitative easing' and tax breaks for the better offs. Then it kick started the housing industry through subsidies. It also started some infrastructure projects.

However some buzz words have now become given. Austerity, welfare cuts, trim Union power etc. Labour too has internalised these and is cornered by the parameters set by Conservatives. It seems to be chasing Tory policies now just as New Labour adopted Thatcherism piecemeal. The difference then was that the Tories were unreptently wearing 'Me sleazy' on their T shirts in their twilight years in late 90's. That allowed Blair to walk in as 'Mr Clean'. Today, the Tories have jealously guarded their reputation with some slip ups such as donations from Russian oligarchs.

Whether austerity and welfare cuts, especially the punitive ones such as bedroom tax on disabled, had any effect on the recovery won't be known for a long time until economists in the distant future compare with other economies retrospectively. Currently the Tories have made people believe that sacrifices by those on lower incomes were necessary. It is Osbonomics.

Osbonomics is essentially a form of Keynesian economics but with emphasis on supporting a different section of society and investing in sectors different than classical Keynesian models. Apart from the staple support that Labour enjoys, Labour is going to have to fight hard for those who are not diehard socialists.

What seems almost certain is that a year is too short a time for Labour to wash off the mud. Labour can present Miliband as 'intellectual heavyweight full of ideas' better able to lead a country than win on the catwalk, but will Labour be able to blow holes in the Conservative propaganda against it and make Tories look like economic despots steering myths? A bit of an impossible task, given the time left to chalk our the soundbite 'Labour-Deficit' from the voter's mind.

Miliband is certainly an intellectual full of ideas and a clever strategist. But Osborne has proved himself to be an equally powerful intellectual, better at gaming strategy. Labour could outwit Tory strategists. Instead of fielding Miliband in a 'presidential style' election, it could play the party instead as a collegium.

Unfortunately Labour may continue to play safe campaigning by Tory rules. It seems the next election will be about who controls the political game and shines at the personality show. Miliband with his ghost team or Osborne with Osbonomic's champion, Cameron.